Lib Dems accuse Tories of trying to 'rubbish' Trident report


Lib Dem Danny Alexander: "It's fair to say that the two parties in government have very different approaches to this issue"

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The coalition parties are at odds after a Lib Dem-prompted government report set out options for replacing the UK's Trident nuclear weapons system.

The Lib Dems favour reducing the number of Vanguard submarines from four now to three, saying the existing system was designed for the Cold War era.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said it would be "naive or reckless" not to have a like-for-like replacement.

But Lib Dem Danny Alexander accused him of trying to "rubbish the report".

A final decision on the issue is to be made in 2016, after the next election.

The UK has had a continuous-at-sea nuclear weapons system, with at least one submarine on patrol at any given time, for more than 40 years and has used the Trident system since the early 1990s.

While the government remains committed to Trident, the coalition partners agreed to undertake a review amid disagreements over future capability and cost.

The review makes no recommendations but set outs a range of options.

Its main findings are:

  • There are alternatives to the current posture which would enable the UK to inflict "significant damage" and deter aggressors
  • Submarines could potentially be operated at "reduced readiness" when threat levels are lower
  • A continuous-at-sea presence is the most "resilient" posture and guarantees the quickest response
  • Land and air-based delivery systems effectively ruled out
  • An entirely new system, using cruise rather than ballistic missiles, would be more expensive than renewing Trident
Trident graphic showing range of missiles, comparing size with 747 and explaining there are four submarines, one is at sea, one is undergoing maintenance and two are in port/training.

The UK's current four-submarine fleet will reach the end of its lifespan in the 2020s and one of the main arguments surrounds how many "successor" submarines - which take 17 years to build - should be commissioned.


The Trident Alternatives Review was never going to settle the debate about the future of Britain's nuclear deterrent.

The review asked three key questions. The first two were: Are there credible alternatives to a submarine-based deterrent? Are there credible submarine-based alternatives to the current proposal - such as modifying the Astute submarines?

In both cases the answer appears to be no. Basing nuclear missile silos on land was never really a starter. Too controversial and too easy to target. And the review appears to conclude that modifying the Astute submarines to carry nuclear cruise missiles would be both more expensive and less effective.

The one hope for the Liberal Democrats is in the last question: Are there alternative nuclear postures, such as a non-continuous at-sea deterrent?

For the Conservatives the answer is still no. Philip Hammond says it would be like having a part time deterrent. He wants a like-for-like replacement.

But the Liberal Democrats argue you could save billions of pounds by having two submarines instead of four. There will be clear blue water between the two parties before the next election.

The report suggests four boats would be required to maintain a continuous-at-sea presence and a smaller fleet would risk "multiple unplanned breaks" in 24-hour patrolling and could affect the UK's ability to respond in crises.

It says the UK could still operate a nuclear weapons system with three or even two boats but that would depend on "political confidence" that there was no chance of an unexpected pre-emptive attack and more regular patrols could be reconstituted.

But Mr Hammond told the BBC that nuclear submarines were the "most complex man-made object on earth" and reducing the numbers available would leave the UK extremely "vulnerable".

"Just because we do not perceive an immediate threat today, does not mean there would not be a threat over the 60-year odd time horizon we are looking at," he said.

"The truth is, at the end of the day, we can have continuous-at-sea nuclear deterrents or we can have a part-time deterrent. The part-time deterrent will save us only trivial sums of money."

But Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander accused Mr Hammond of trying to "rubbish the report" and said his Conservatives colleagues "were worried about losing the argument".

'Nuclear ladder'

The UK's nuclear policy had "not moved on very much since the end of the Cold War", he said, and the review showed there were "credible alternatives" to the current arrangements.


  • 2007: MPs approve plans for renewal in Commons vote. "Concept phase" launched to assess future submarine designs and consider value for money of project
  • 2010: Defence review decides to delay final decision on renewal to 2016
  • 2011: "Initial Gate" procurement phase to begin. Some building materials and components of nuclear propulsion system to be purchased over five years
  • 2016: "Main Gate" decision due to be taken. Submarine design and missile component contracts to be finalised
  • 2028: First replacement submarine to be delivered

"We can move on by ending 24-hour patrols when we don't need them and buying fewer submarines," he said.

"That way we can move down the ladder of disarmament as a country without compromising our national security."

Critics have questioned whether the UK can continue to pay for Trident in its current form. The government estimates renewal costs will be between £15bn and £20bn but anti-nuclear campaigners say the figure will be much higher.

Mr Alexander said £4bn would be saved in the medium to long term from moving to three submarines but the Ministry of Defence says the current cost of operating the Trident fleet is about 5% of the annual £34bn defence budget.

'In denial'

Parliament will debate the findings of the report on Wednesday.

Labour said it remained committed to maintaining the "minimum credible independent nuclear deterrent" and it believed that was best delivered through a continuous-at-sea submarine presence.

"It would require a substantial body of evidence for us to change that but this review does not appear to offer such evidence," shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said.

The SNP, which has vowed to remove nuclear weapons from Scottish soil if it wins an independence referendum next year, said the review was "not worth the paper it is written on".

"The Westminster establishment seem to have forgotten that Trident is based in Scotland, and neither the people nor parliament of Scotland want it here," said its Westminster leader Angus Robertson.

"This review is in denial, and panders to the vanity of the Westminster system which wants to keep this out-dated, dangerous arsenal of nuclear weapons on the Clyde."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 951.

    re my # 950-apologies : I thought # 947 was from the renowned poster called "Timmy". Obviously you are not him---I thought the posting didn't sound his usual excellent words of wisdom. So aplogies for confusing you with someone else whose postings are highly regarded , by me and many others.
    Back to topic :keep 4 subs, always have one on patrol:keep Trident and prorect us in a dangerous world !

  • rate this

    Comment number 950.

    Re 947--a rare and unexpectedly poor post from you, Famous Five.
    You may be right in terms of a World war but you are very wrong IMHO about the likelihood of very serious wars of amjor significance. And what is "globalisation"?We move around the world a lot more?How did that help in the genocide of the Balkans, the threat now from Iran, NKoreawho could easily launch a nuke: they're mad u know !

  • rate this

    Comment number 949.

    I suggest build FOUR more nuclear submarines and make life easier for the Navy personnel that risk their lives to defend the UK and its people. Have TWO at sea and nuke anyone who threatens us. For 15bn to 20bn it is a small price to pay to renew Trident, I say DOUBLE Trident and the submarines and the personnel. Create jobs by doing so as well. How to pay for it ? Stop the 95bn spend on benefits.

  • rate this

    Comment number 948.

    The problem with Trident is it's a one trick pony. It does one thing very well - indiscriminate mass destruction of a specific area of a country along with the associated military and civilian population. If we must be militaristic then armed forces are far more flexible. They can be guards, policemen or extremely aggressive as appropriate and to a large extent only kill those who shoot back.

  • rate this

    Comment number 947.

    The age of war is over, for now at least. Globalization has see to that. War was just another business; another way to make money by forcing preferable terms on your adversary.

    War today consists of superpowers bullying small countries - e.g. the US in Iraq & Russia in Georgia. China and the US depend on each other economically, as do Russia and the EU. Major wars are no longer good for business.

  • rate this

    Comment number 946.

    The LibDems have already nuked any chance of being elected ever again. Trying to publicise forced and tenuous 'differences' between the 2 parties is not going to undo the damage they've done to themselves with their broken promises, broken principles and irrevocably tarnished reputation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 945.

    We don't need them, and most people I've spoken with don't want them. So, why do we have them? Because it makes a nice little earner for our American "allies", not to mention the brown envelopes being passed around. It boils down to even more corruption from a hugely corrupt establishment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 944.

    So less troops, less subs while superpowers like russia and china and buidling more than ever. With countries outside the G20 wanting these weapons what does the lib dems propose we use, harsh language and a flower in the barrel of weapon while singing Calfifornia dreamin with make love not war on our backs....or share a sub with the French, it's our turn this week, please remove the onions guys!

  • rate this

    Comment number 943.

    #942-----priceless :)))))))))))))))))))))
    I wonder why some folk come on these Blogs after coming home from their evening MENSA meeting :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 942.

    Keep Trident...Keep foodbanks
    keep Trident...keep Child poverty
    Keep Trident . Keep 3rd world roads
    KeepTrident ...slash police and fire services
    We only have one boat at sea ( when its not run aground )
    Money wasted to keep seat on security council so DC can pretend we aren't going down the pan

  • rate this

    Comment number 941.

    #937 Have you just come in from the pub after a night out with your mates in the EDL? Now, what you need to do is stand in front of the mirror to see one of the threats to the country. Go to bed and sleep it off, and in the morning look in the mirror again first thing. Scary, innit? Nighty night.

  • rate this

    Comment number 940.

    Quote .. // 936. Stamp
    Polls show that Scots have no desire to keep nuclear weapons. If Westminster are so keen on keeping these then it's about time they were moved closer to Westminster. //

    Indeed and when/if Scotland becomes independent the BRITISH Armed forces should relocate to England including the Scots Regiments.

    I will leave it to you to inform the 20,000 civilians they have no jobs

  • rate this

    Comment number 939.

    The overpopulated Island of the Banana republic of Britain still on it's ego trip.
    Lets be honest Britain is nothing more than a EU dumping ground for Illegal aliens and foreign banks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 938.

    As governments are very good at cover-ups...could they not just pretend too have designed a new nuclear deterrent, the 'doomsday device', and then replace trident with that.

    No-one will ever know if it does, or does not exist, it will deter people and then we can go and spend the money on something more useful

    Or do we think a whistle-blower will release the cover-up to the world...

  • Comment number 937.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 936.

    Last week that MOD suggested they would annexe Faslane and Coulport as "sovereign base territories" on a Yes vote to an independent Scotland.

    That's Westminster for you - ready & willing to invade another independent country!

    Polls show that Scots have no desire to keep nuclear weapons. If Westminster are so keen on keeping these then it's about time they were moved closer to Westminster.

  • rate this

    Comment number 935.

    The postings seem to have gone off the topic . Who cares about Scotland---good riddance if they get out----less for us to subsidise: hope they can get by on Iron Girfers and Fish Suppers. And who cares about some squabble about about whether UK is a good place to bring up kids. Grow up kiddies---this topic is about keeping our nuclear deterrent---a MUST in this dangerous world and rogue states !

  • rate this

    Comment number 934.

    #903: "The fact that taking revenge on countless innocent people seems to be your main priority in a conflict ..."

    Firstly, use of nuclear weapons is never main priority, it is last resort. Secondly, it is incomprehensible that in the event of a nuclear attack on this country you would not support retaliation against those responsible. Otherwise you are walking round with a target on your back.

  • rate this

    Comment number 933.

    @ 923 aw05 ctd.
    p.s. the missiles cost $70million each. Your estimate of the upgrade is hopelessly out. The govt's own figures estimate £20-25 billon for the replacement. As we know from experience, military procurement estimates tend to be over optimistic. Who knows what the cost will be by the mid 2020s? p.p.s The guidance system is American too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 932.

    A total waste of money. We do not need Trident. What would be more cost effective is a fleet of hunter killer submarines. These can ensure that any naval threat to the UK can be stopped. As we are in NATO any threat to us would mean that other NATO nations should come to the UKs aid. Unless of course the threat is from the US.


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